Take time off, even if you don’t feel like it. This is a journey, we don’t want to get burned out! I’m doing a lot — producing Youtube videos once a week, managing a global school, speaking, working with sponsors, running a staff, producing events and a docuseries — I make myself take breaks with no technology at all regularly to decompress and recharge. I’m much more productive as a result.
As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Siraj Raval, a 28- year-old Youtuber who’s one of the top influencers in Artificial Intelligence globally. As a rapper, entertainer, educator and author, his work has been shared by the demigods of tech including Elon Musk, Demis Hassabis, and Jeff Dean. Raval is on a mission to offer world-class education in AI to anyone on earth for free to decentralize the technology and create a synergistic global community making a positive impact through AI on our world’s most serious issues for the betterment of all.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Siraj! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Houston, Texas to parents who immigrated to the USA from India. As a child, I was interested in storytelling, wordplay, and of course, technology. I loved to learn and was always curious about the ways that technology could be used to make life better for all of humankind. Learning about the troubles Earth was facing like climate change, healthcare, and even access to sufficient drinking water, I knew I somehow wanted to be a catalyst for the solution to these problems.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was apprehensive to put myself out in a very public way creatively, rapping about heady subjects like data science, machine learning and AI. It was really difficult in the beginning because I would get negative comments about my videos and bashed by strangers. I never expected to gain such a large following of enthusiastic learners of technology so fast! My Youtube channel is the fastest growing AI community in the world. And I’m on a mission to inspire and educate developers to build AI that will benefit humanity. Games, apps, music, chatbots, art, you name it — I teach you how to make it all yourself. Through my School of AI, I have over 400 Deans spread across the globe. We recently came together in Granada to present our AI projects and we have research fellows who concentrate on solutions for the United Nations sustainable development goals with AI. As a specific example, I have a Dean in rural Zimbabwe who, through AI, has found a way to detect cholera.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Some of my initial rap videos about technology were pretty cringeworthy, and the top comments on the video definitely showed that to me. I learned to take all criticism as feedback and use it to improve in the future, rather than letting it bring down my spirit. I get very few negative comments now and my videos have become more creative, with high production value, reaching a vast audience.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
There’s a lot of negative focus on AI — like it’s a weapon that can be utilized against humanity. Right now I’m working on a docuseries that shows people all the positive impacts AI technology is having in the world by visiting people creating sustainable solutions using the technology. Simultaneously, I’m working to decentralize the technology and get as many people using it for positive solutions to our problems. Ultimately my hope is that AI technology will be in the hands of many, rather than a few who have all of the control. I’m also starting a podcast interviewing people in the field with a technology background.
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I think diversity is important because the audience gets to learn new ideas that come from having different value systems. It also shows people that they too can achieve great things, people of all backgrounds. And in general, it will increase the size of the audience, which is good for content distributors. When I was growing up, I felt like an outcast and wasn’t really proud of my east Indian heritage. When I went to college I actually tried to change my looks a bit wearing green contact lenses, dying my hair lighter, and changing my name from Siraj to Jordan. It’s been a few years of personally evolving, but I’m back to my real name, eye and hair color and am proud to be who I am, authentically. I think that is a contribution potentially affecting the stigmas of our culture.
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Finding people who are underrepresented, and representing them in some way! Opening more doors. There was a Canadian comedy series recently and one of the main characters was pansexual with a very positive impact. In my music videos, I have a real eclectic mix of actors who join me and it seems natural. I hope the stereotypes are starting to recede.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t let the critics get you down, because you can always learn from them. I’ve had people tell me to get off Youtube or keep my rap to myself. If I listened, I wouldn’t have the following I do now, creating the community and helping the people I am.
2. Focus on providing value above all else, as that’s what helps you grow a following. From the start, I really try and give my audiences information that widens their perspective and understanding. It’s really not about me, it’s about making AI second nature so more people can create great things with the technology.
3. Believe in your ability to learn, because that’s what allows you to learn more than anything else. Honestly, some of the topics I take on I don’t know enough about when I start. But by the end of the video, I know a lot more.
4. Sleep more! Sleep is so important for mental health. We all push ourselves if not externally then definitely internally. Our brain literally needs sleep to function at it’s best. My mom was right in this department, and yours probably was too.
5. Take time off, even if you don’t feel like it. This is a journey, we don’t want to get burned out! I’m doing a lot — producing Youtube videos once a week, managing a global school, speaking, working with sponsors, running a staff, producing events and a docuseries — I make myself take breaks with no technology at all regularly to decompress and recharge. I’m much more productive as a result.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s really a simple formula: Sleep more, eat a healthy diet, and meditate daily.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I absolutely want to envoke more people to make scientific discoveries and use those discoveries to engineer solutions that improve the lives of others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My third-grade teacher in elementary school really encouraged me and reminded me that my writing ability was really special and that I should nurture it. Sometimes feeling loved and valued is the most inspiring thing in the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Strive to be detached from the results of your actions. Act selflessly, without expectation of reward. In this way, you are free from anxiety. This is quite relevant as a popular Youtuber because I have to stay true to myself, rather than perform for some built-in belief system that may have nothing to do with me.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Barack Obama. I’d love to talk about the intersection of politics and technology, as I feel its an underexplored topic. I also admire how he is capable to supporting people from all walks of life trying to make a true difference for the world, as he has done.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can subscribe to Siraj Raval on Youtube!